My very first anime was not Pokémon, Sailor Moon, or Dragonball Z. It was Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland. Look it up. It was preciously beautiful (and terrifying, thanks to the Nightmare King), but as I grew from Pokémon dweeb to Moonie to anime club official, I’ve learned a few things.
First off, anime is not an all encompassing term for children’s cartoons. In fact, just because it’s animation, doesn’t mean it’s for children. There are general audience rated anime, of course, but then there are…others. (Goblin Slayer, looking at you.) From wholesome and heartwarming to sexually charged with buckets of blood, anime has it all. But first, let’s start with, what is anime?
Anime is art.
Anime is the Japanese word for animation and can be hand-drawn, like Master Miyazaki and all his wondrous movies, but it has recently become a combination of hand-drawn animation and computer animation. Since anime is Japanese in origin, it’s…you guessed it, originally voiced in Japanese. There are those that you can watch subbed (subtitled) in English (or your preferred language), while a dubbed anime (short for ‘double’ and meaning another voice has been tracked over the original) means you can watch shows in English, Spanish, etc.
But where did anime come from? Space? No, silly. Our Disney overlords, of course.
Okay, okay. Jokes aside, it’s true. Disney animation’s large eyes and overall flavor inspired Osamu Tezuka, the creator of the very first anime Astro Boy. From there, anime has taken many styles. It can be realistic or exaggerated. It can be vintage or modern. It can be many things, but it is always art.
There’s an anime for any age.
A large chunk of anime’s stories are far-fetched and can swing between serious and silly within seconds. There are genres aplenty within anime such as the slice of life genre and the sports genre, but also many types of age-targeted anime as well: kodomomuke, shonen, seinen, shojo, and josei.
Kodomomuke can be enjoyed by any age but is aimed at young children, in which the show usually teaches a lesson like mind your manners or spread kindness. These usually have smiling, talking animals and simple concepts so that the younger audience can follow. Think Hello Kitty and Hamtaro.
Shonen, which focuses on young boys as its audience, includes popular titles such as Naruto, One Piece, Dragon Ball, Bleach, Fullmetal Alchemist, etc. They usually have an adolescent protagonist (most of them fifteen, for some reason) and are usually heavy on the fantasy elements. Seinen refers to anime directed at young men (usually above the age of 15) and has much more mature content. Though Seinen has action, it focuses more on psychological aspects, such as mental introspection, psychological horror, and other complexities that Shonen doesn’t always touch on. Seinen includes Berserk, Cowboy Bebop, Steins; Gate, Death Note, and much more.
Shojo anime is marketed to young girls and is all about interpersonal relationships. This is where you get the love triangles, the teenage angst, and all that unnecessary drama. Some Shojo are Sailor Moon, Ouran Highschool Host Club, Fruits Basket, and Your Lies in April. But, if you want a taste of anime targeted at adult women, this is called Josei and includes dark or complicated material that younger audiences may not be ready for yet. If you’ve ever heard of “new adult” books, this is basically Josei. It mainly deals with college or post-college characters, especially concerning marriage and/or creating a family. Some Josei are Paradise Kiss, Princess Jellyfish, and Usagi Drop.
Honorifics, or hi, you said respectfully.
Anime taught me a small amount of information about Japanese culture, but what’s important is that it was an introduction. What’s definitely true about the culture is its value of respect. This bleeds into anime and how characters in anime act. You will see this when characters bow to one another, especially if they’ve first met or they are speaking to someone of higher rank.
In Japanese culture, there is an unspoken ranking according to age, position, and familiarity. Honorific titles, my friends. They are used…a lot! While we have titles in America, used when we refer to someone as Mr. or Mrs. Smith, for example, Japan uses honorifics, and it’s all due to their culture of respect. As you begin your descent into anime-hood, consider paying particular attention to how honorifics are used. Anime nerds can glean all the information they need about two characters and their first impressions or underlying respect for one another just by paying attention to titles.
In Japan, people are usually referred to by their last name and NOT (I repeat, NOT) by their first name, unless in certain situations. San is a gender neutral blanket term, loosely translated as Mr/Mrs/Ms and is used to gift the one spoken to with respect. It signifies that both parties are equal. Of course, this gets more complicated when working in a company, but thankfully, a large chunk of anime surrounds teenagers (at least, the more popular ones).
You may even hear a character throw around sama. This is used only in the presence of someone of higher rank than you, like a king or queen (unless you’re a king or queen). Even gods would have this trailing their name.
Kun is used towards young men (especially by females referring to young men they are close with) or among friends. I remember hearing this for the first time and thinking it was used exclusively for crushes, simply because Sakura used it with Sasuke (in the anime Naruto), which can be true, but it’s used far more liberally than I ever would have expected. Just think young men, good friends, and children.
Chan is reserved for children and girls because it’s supposed to sound cuter than san. There are exceptions to these, too. Chan can also be used in referring to cute animals. Chan=cute, I suppose.
Artistic symbols and tropes abound in anime.
Anime has its own symbols and artistic tropes that are used across the media. Some of these include visual language, such as easily recognizable speed lines (which Western culture has used in its own cartoons to indicate quick movement) and tear drops to, of course, indicate someone who is feeling sad.
Sometimes, the visual language takes things literally, like when a spark flies across two rivals, initiating a rivalry to end all rivalries. A literal nose-bubble is also used in anime to signify when a character is sleeping soundly, especially to heighten comedic moments.
There are also anime specific symbols. When a character becomes LIVID, four connected, outward facing u’s indicate this to the audience! Some people refer to this as a character popping veins, and it’s used mostly in comedic moments as well. Another symbol you are bound to see is the sweat drop over the character’s hair/head. Yes, like the emoji! This can show a variety of emotions, from embarrassment to confusion, but it is a staple while watching anime.
Then, there’s the nose bleed. Ah, yes. A symbol that seems to crop up often and for one reason in particular. It isn’t the dry air, that’s for sure. Whenever a character is feeling sexually aroused by another character or particular event, that character gets a nosebleed. He or she could produce a dribble or even a fountain of blood that gushes forth from his/her nose. Of course, this is probably one way to make anime and manga appropriate for a wider audience because then the artists don’t have to show blood rushing to a certain *ahem* unmentionable area. Instead, the blood rushes to the face…
There is an abundance of symbols, but as you traverse the wonderful world of anime, reading these symbols will become second nature. After all, the best way to understand anime is to venture forth and see for yourself. Ganbare!